The Shape Of Water is the new fantastical masterpiece from visionary director Guillermo Del Toro. The film spans a huge amount of genres, delivering as a romance, a thriller, a drama, and a powerful fantasy film that raise The Shape of Water to become one of del Toro’s very best, and inspiring comparisons to his seminal work, Pan’s Labyrinth.
Following Elisa Esposito, a mute janitor who works at a secret Cold War government laboratory in Baltimore, The Shape of Water follows her growing relationship with a humanoid amphibious creature brought to the lab by the cruel Colonel Richard Strickland. The tale is in many ways a more modern update of classic fairytales, with particular inspiration clearly being taken from something such as Beauty and the Beast. Del Toro manages to blend classic fairytale storytelling with the cold war setting to touch upon important social issues seamlessly. At its heart The Shape of Water is a film about the empowerment of those marginalised from society, with Strickland clearly there to represent the aspects of society that marginalise them. Del Toro truly proves how masterful of a director he is with his handling of all these genres and ideas, but never losing sight of what a beautiful and enthralling tale he is creating.
It does help when he has such a wonderfully talented cast to work with. Sally Hawkins as Elisa is incredible. It’s such a hard job to convey so much with essentially never getting to use her voice. Despite this she completely makes you believe in her relationship with the Amphibian Man, who is himself played by Del Toro’s go to creature specialist Doug Jones. What is incredibly powerful is to see this mute character often vocalised through Richard Jenkins as her closeted gay neighbour and Octavia Spencer as her co-worker. To see people from communities that are so often marginalised, LGBT and PoC, being the ones giving a voice to her is a wonderful move from Del Toro. And both are fantastic in their role, especially Jenkins who is funny, relatable, and moving character. Finally Michael Shannon as Strickland is a superb antagonist. He’s creepy and intimidating in a very real, and quite insidious way. You can see the racist/homophobic/sexist characteristics of the character without them often being explicitly said.
And so many of the rest of the crew are superb. The visual effects on the Amphibian Man are excellent, especially given that this wasn’t a $200 million blockbuster, instead a far more reasonable $20 million. Del Toro’s films are often wonderfully shot, and in Dan Laustsen Del Toro has a cinematographer that he has worked with before on Mimic and Crimson Peak. Laustsen ensures that The Shape of Water is no exception. Finally mention has to be given to Alexandre Desplat’s score. Much like the film itself it manages to create a beautiful fairytale haze to truly sucker you into the magic of The Shape of Water.
The Shape of Water is yet another master work from an incredible director. Guillermo Del Toro’s film is beautiful, funny, moving, poignant, and joyous. Not to mention going to be very tough to displace as my absolute favourite film of this year.